Best Shots Extra: NIGHTWING #19, THE SIXTH GUN #30, More

 

Nightwing #19

Written by Kyle Higgins

Art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse

Lettering by Carlos M. Mangual

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's very rare to get a second chance to make a good first impression, but with a new city, a new artist and a new status quo, it's nice to see Nightwing stick the landing. Free of his mentor's dark status quo, the new Nightwing is brighter, more energetic and more refreshing than he's been since the beginning of The New 52.

A lot of that falls on the shoulders of Brett Booth. He's gotten a lot of flak for his work on Teen Titans, particularly his unorthodox panel layouts and his occasionally distended characters. Consider it a case of the wrong talent on the wrong book — with the acrobatic Nightwing, however, Booth's perceived weaknesses suddenly become his strengths.

Booth's animated take on Nightwing is ideally suited for this kinetic vigilante, his silhouette cutting a nice figure across Chicago's rooftops in what has to be a nod to Jim Lee's dynamic opener in the first issue of Justice League. There's also a nice moment with a crashing helicopter, where Booth breaks down panels so they almost look like runaway rotor blades. That said, he does occasionally get a little cramped in some spaces and drags when extended conversations take place, unlike Teen Titans, where Byzantine subplots were the norm, this is a comic about a super-active superhero. It's a good fit.

And you get the sense that writer Kyle Higgins feels free, too. No more Talons, no more Joker, no more circus, just being able to tell whatever story he wants without the constraints of continuity or crossovers. And that lack of an overarching storyline isn't a bad thing right now — similar to the seminal Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel series, Higgins' Nightwing is just finding his feet and doing what he's doing. Squaring off with the cops, while nondescript, is action-packed and self-effacing enough to endear Dick Grayson to the reader.

Sometimes it's a matter of putting the right team on the right project. Nightwing and Brett Booth is just an example of that. With a streamlined protagonist and a supercharged artistic team, it's looking like Dick Grayson might finally find his own identity outside of his mentor's bestselling exploits. Of course it would be Chicago were Nightwing would pick up his second wind.

 

The Sixth Gun #30

Written by Cullen Bunn

Art by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree

Lettering by Douglas E. Sherwood

Published by Oni Press

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating 9 out of 10

Back at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Cullen Bunn said The Sixth Gun had a definite ending. An ending that worked for the path of these characters, and that meant not everyone was going to ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. Although I know that issue is many, many months away, there is a strong sense of foreboding within the opening of this new arc. Although that's not to say this series is going to take a turn for the doom and gloom.

Both good and evil are on the move as issue #30 opens. Missy Hume, shaken from her spectral confrontation with Becky Montcrief, has joined forces with the mother of her sadistic husband General Hume to hunt down the owner of the sixth gun. And while her forces gather strength, Becky Montcrief and Drake Sinclair are much worse for ware after their ordeal with the Wendigo. To say nothing of the potentially mortal toll the sixth gun enacted upon Montcrief. She's in a bad way and even a gathering of tribal elders may not be able to save her. As I said, this issue is nothing but foreboding, and yet it's still quite an entertaining read.

Bunn has a keen ear for timing, knowing exactly when to pull the reader out of the narrative depths he's placed them in. In this case, the ill-timed (or perfect, depending on your point of view) moment comes from the Kirby Hale, the thief that betrayed and broke Becky's heart. Yet he is so much more than joke every few panels to lighten the mood. His snarky exterior is slowing breaking away as we see just how deeply he hurt Becky. There is a real sadness in his tone when Becky refuses even the most basic of outstretched hand as she falls from sickness. It's a tonal shift in character that is subtle, but adds a powerful element to the scene and character.

It's on visuals where The Sixth Gun #30 truly shines. Although lacking in some of the more crazy action we've come expect from the series, Brian Hurtt's line work tells a strong character-driven story. Since issue #1, the guns have always given off an aura and danger and power. But in this issue, Hurtt's panel design and character posture reveal so much more than power. These guns take a real physical toll on those that wield them and that concept has never come through better than in this issue. Bill Crabtree continues to grow as an excellent colorist in this series. There isn't a single panel that isn't augmented by Crabtree's colors. Indeed, much of the emotion coming from the page owes itself to Crabtree's subtle use of muted tones and shadows.

As I said in the beginning, we're getting hints at the inevitable end of this series. However, that ending is still a long way off and in that time, I hope Bunn, Hurtt, and Crabtree continue to show why this is one of the best books on the shelf. Few titles are able to mix the darkness with humor and genuine human emotion as The Sixth Gun. Although the series has had a few bumps here and there, issue #30 proves there is still a lot of story to tell and Becky Montcrief's journey is far from over. It's a good issue for new folks to jump in, for those that have been there since the beginning, here we go again. Hang on.

 

Age of Ultron #6

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Brandon Peterson, Paul Mounts, Carlos Pacheco, Roger Martinez, and Jose Villarubia

Letters by Cory Petit

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by George Marston

'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10

SPOILERS ON! Well, it only took six issues to arrive, but something of an actual plot is finally developing in Age of Ultron. With it comes a bunch of action, two new artists, and a host of new problems with the story and its format. While it's worth noting that Brian Bendis finally moves forward with not one, but two time-travel plots, the impact of this issue is drastically undercut by Marvel's aggressive marketing of their post Age of Ultron plans.

Age of Ultron may well wind up being a treatise on the major issue's with the modern comic industry. Teased for almost a year before its release, and hinted at for even longer, Age of Ultron depicts a world and a scenario that had to be retrofitted into Marvel NOW! with a series of one off tie-ins, despite an utter lack of plot, build up, or actual narrative. The gap between the announcement of Age of Ultron and its eventual, post Marvel NOW! release not only caused Age of Ultron's core cast to simply not make sense given the role most of them play in the current status quo, but also allowed numerous marketing initiatives - necessary for promotion, but detrimental to any possible element of surprise - and rumor mills to scoop up nearly every twist and "shocking" outcome of the event.  The impact that the timing of the release of Age of Ultron and the marketing of the post Age of Ultron landscape are felt far more in this issue than even the intended emotional impact of Wolverine and Sue Storm's mission. Even though readers expect the deaths and changes of these kind of stories to be less than permanent, Marvel has flat out telegraphed that knowledge, effectively neutering its own story.

It's almost impossible to feel anything but the suspension going out on your disbelief at seeing things like Captain America being beheaded, or Wolverine killing Hank Pym just before the latter created Ultron when it's not just likely, but obvious that there's some element of bait and switch going on when Hank Pym is shown at the center of a new wave of books spinning out of Age of Ultron, and the character is being touted as a lynchpin of the new Marvel Universe, given a new status quo, and a new lease on life as he's refocused and re-purposed by new creators (granted - while we know there's some Hank Pym in the post AU universe, we don't know if it's a younger Pym, some sort of merger with Ultron, an alternate timeline Pym, or any number of other fun comic book-y reasonings). Even though Bendis turns the corner and starts actually moving forward with a plan discussed (but never implemented) for five issues and counting, it's not even too little, too late -- it's totally late and totally over-the-top, to the point where the impact is totally lost. His take on Sue Storm is appropriately heartbreaking, and his Hank Pym is actually intriguing, and a little tragic. Unfortunately, the glimpses at these bright points are all too fleeting, as what could become the moral core of the story is almost breezed over as a plot device instead of a microcosm of the story's core question of whether emotion, sentiment, and morality are man's weaknesses, or his strengths.

Age of Ultron #6 also marks the departure of Bryan Hitch from the book, which is sad only due to the loss of consistency in art, and the fact that it feels like so much of his ability to sell a story was wasted on a five issue introduction to an actual plot. Fortunately, Carlos Pacheco and Brandon Peterson are fairly complementary, and with their art chores smartly split between the scenes taking place in the past and present, each gets a chance to shine. Pacheco's art does come out a little ahead, probably because he not only deals with a smaller cast, but because Peterson's art seems somewhat off, like some of his usual style is being stifled either by Paul Mounts's gorgeous but less connected colors, or perhaps by some stylistic imperative to hew closer to Pacheco's style. 

Age of Ultron has finally picked up the pace and is now barreling ever closer to... What, exactly?  We know the basic outcomes of this event already, which is really a shame considering how poignant some of the scenes in this issue could have been.  What could, and should have been Days of Future Past for the Avengers instead feels like a means to an end. Age of Ultron seems less like a story that had to be told, and more like one that exists simply because it can, relying on the long held conceit that Ultron will someday try to kill everyone, and skirting tense moral issues instead of confronting them. There is more than enough space for the kind of wordy examinations that Bendis loves to employ in this issue, but what should have been the moment at the crux of this series is instead given no room to breathe, let along foster any kind of dialogue or character development. Instead, Bendis somehow finds a way to contract the one scene worthy of expansion in the entire six issues that have been published into a grisly throwaway moment undercut by an utter lack of dramatic tension and an abundance of spoilers and ruined surprises. It's emblematic of Age of Ultron as a whole.

 

Danger Club #5

Written by Landry Q. Walker

Art by Eric Jones, Michael Drake, and Garry Black

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

Published by Image

Review by Lan Pitts

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's been a long while since Danger Club hit our stands, but this issue remedies that and begins a new arc, even if it isn't really the absolute best start for new readers. Aside from that, long-time collaborators Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones bring Danger Club right up there with other prominent teen hero-centric books, but with a more mature edge. When you have a character have his arm ripped off and then face smashed in, you realize Walker and Jones aren't playing around.

For the non-readers of Danger Club, the book follows the adventures of former teen sidekicks, how have formed their own team when their mentors left Earth. Without their leadership, things quickly spun into chaos and here we have Captain America analogue the American Spirit, now as the deranged President of the Global States of America, holding a handful of the sidekicks hostage. In addition to that, he's made it known he has a time machine, and his plans aren't exactly benevolent.

The delay of this issue (#4 came out in October) did take away the momentum of things, but here Walker really delivers with some sci-fi flavors and giving the book the villain it deserves. I just wish he had added some needed exposition to speed up new readers. There are hints here and there of what's transpired, but you can't really paint a cohesive idea with just those alone.

Eric Jones' style really takes you back to the George Perez days of Teen Titans, with pages filled with bold action and rich linework that give you a sense of urgency and, yes, danger. While Jones might not have Perez's exact sort of rendering and style, his handling of multiple characters per panel and great use of facial expressions should be applauded. There are a few pages in the issue where nothing is wasted. Backgrounds are showy and lavish, but nothing is overrendered to the point of excess.

A minor setback would be colorist Michael Drake's palette here, as it comes out as too bright and just feels like it washes out some of the action at times. One positive note about it is that you can see Jones' intricate detail, such as facial lines and hair detail. True, small details, but they're rendered so beautifully. Jones' take on the action scenes evoke the proper mixture of tension and drama, creating some great moments. There is a flashback to a pretty violent death, and another one takes place in this issue as well, so be ready for the unexpected. Add in Walker's dialogue and it's a pretty solid read.

Fans of the likes of Avengers Academy, classic Titans, or even Avengers Arena might want to take a gander in Danger Club's direction. They might be teen sidekicks or heroes, but Walker and Jones don't tread lightly and go places you might not expect. As for the fans already reading, the cliffhanger might have been a great way of saving this spot in your pull boxes.

 

Evil Ernie #5

Written by Jesse Snider

Art by Jason Craig and Marcio Menyz

Lettering by Troy Peteri

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Patrick Hume

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Given that I was six or so when Evil Ernie made his debut, he's not a character I ever became familiar with beyond occasional glimpses in Wizard. This first arc of an ongoing series from Dynamite reboots the character, however, laying out a new origin story for the necromantic serial murderer who just wanted to be loved.

This is not a bad comic in terms of technical craft. It's just an aggressively mediocre one. The best part of this issue is easily the first page, which gives us a peek at a decade of prayers from young Ernie, begging God to stop the abuse from his adoptive parents — pleas that go unanswered and that cause Ernie to turn to the dark arts. Each panel sells the growing desperation in Ernie's words, providing insight and nuance into a character that has otherwise seemed to define one-dimensional.

From there, we return to the present, as the battered Ernie confronts his adoptive father, Buford, in the prison that they have turned into a charnel house. The bulk of the book is given over to their battle, as Buford taunts Ernie and leaves him for (un)dead. A few decent one-liners aside, there's not much going on here aside from arcane blasts getting thrown around, zombies rising up, and inexplicable reprieves from what had seemed to be certain demise. The motivations of the characters are clear, so it's not as if the action is inexplicable. Where the book falls down is making the stakes of the situation feel vital. Without that, it's just a bunch of dismembered demons yelling at each other.

One interesting element that I wish could have been expanded upon is the cutaways to the White House, where the President is being briefed on the confrontation and urged to nuke the prison in order to stop Ernie before he has a chance to escape. While the tone of something like this in a horror book might seem a bit odd at first, it brings an element of realism and grounding to what's happening that is otherwise lacking. After all, if a superpowered killer who can raise the dead started rampaging across the United States, the government would probably be interested, yes? I would almost rather read a book about this conflict than the tired, played-out struggle between Ernie and Buford, which I've seen versions of across all forms of media dozens of times.

The art from Craig and Menyz is functional without being accomplished, with some layout oddities that make the action hard to follow at times. While plenty of attention has been lavished on the stumps of limbs and the nuances of torn-open anatomies, the book as a whole has a slick yet unpolished feel to it that doesn't do much to sell the forgettable story. Ernie himself is probably the least interesting looking thing in his own title, which seems like a misstep in terms of visual priorities.

Evil Ernie #5 is a quick read that will probably not stick with you much longer than it takes you to turn the last page. I think one of the worse things you can say about horror in any medium is that it's bland, but that's the word that springs immediately to mind here. I wasn't frightened or intrigued, amused or outraged, at any point. I hadn't read it, and then I had — that's all that changed in me. Creating something just for entertainment value is fine, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't aim a little higher than this. 

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